“Braided In”: The Second Amendment and Anti-Blackness
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S2: Now, why is Tamir Rice, the 12 year old, a threat and Kyle Rittenhouse not a threat? That is what I’m getting at here in the second.
S1: Hi, and welcome back to our summer season of Amicus. This is Slate’s podcast about the law and the rule of law and the courts. I’m Dahlia Lithwick. I covered these things for Slate magazine. And as we do every summer, we like to step back from the daily tick tock of the law and the Supreme Court docket and to look at some books and films that are reshaping maybe in big ways the way that we think about the law. This week, our show lies right on the theme of two issues that we discussed so often on this show, racial justice on the one hand and the Second Amendment on the other. Our guest is one of our very favorite guests, historian Carol Anderson. Professor Anderson is the Charles Howard Candler, professor and chair of African-American Studies at Emory University. She is the author of One Person No Vote Long, listed for the National Book Award and a finalist for the PEN, John Kenneth Galbraith Award. Her book, White Rage, was a New York Times best seller and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, and she was named a Guggenheim Fellow for Constitutional Studies. Carol Anderson new book is called The Second. It was published in June by Bloomsbury Press. The second explores the ways in which the Second Amendment, ostensibly conferring the right to bear arms upon all Americans, was actually conceived as and continues to be, as she puts it, not about an abstract liberty to carry guns, but as an instrument of, quote, black exclusion and debasement, unquote. Carol has joined us before to discuss her prescient warnings about voter suppression and race in America. As I said, it is always such a treat to have you on the show. Welcome, Carol.
S2: Thank you so much for having me. I’m just excited to have this conversation with you.
S1: Dahlia Carol. I wonder if you could just start by talking a little bit about what led you to this exploration of the connection between slavery, the founding and guns, maybe how you arrived at this question after working so hard on issues of race. And then as you and I have talked about before on this show, voting rights
S2: actually it began in 2016 with the killing of Orlando Castillo. So here in Minnesota, you have a black man who was pulled over by the police. The police officer asked to see his ID. Fernando Castillo, following NRA guidelines, alerts the officer that he has a license to carry a weapon with him. When he says, but I’m reaching for my I.D., the police officer begins shooting and kills for Castillo. We see the film of it. It is horrific. So we have a black man killed simply for having a gun, not for brandishing it, not for threatening anyone, simply for having a license to carry a gun. And the NRA that that pretend that the NRA, that protector of the Second Amendment. Goes virtually silent and I thought, how is the NRA silent on this, particularly when they were absolutely vociferous at Ruby Ridge and at Waco, calling federal law enforcement jackbooted government thugs. But on this, they’re like. Virtually silent. We think that everybody should have the right to bear arms. We have to wait until after the investigation. And so journalists begin asking, well, don’t African-Americans have Second Amendment rights? And I thought to myself, that’s a great question. And that’s what led me onto this hunt.
S1: And I want to be really clear about your framework, Carol you are not doing a sort of comprehensive piece of legal or constitutional theory, this is not a book of the Second Amendment doctrine as inflected by race over the centuries. You are, I think, doing exactly the thing that you did in one person no vote, which is a kind of pointillist historical explanation of what was happening in the spaces around that legal and constitutional history. Your work, I think, on voting rights and now on guns is sort of a sidebar about everything that we may have missed when we were thinking that all of Second Amendment history is bound up in the federalist paper in the case law.
S2: Right, exactly. So it I make clear that this is an anti-gun or pro-gun book. This isn’t about the whether it’s a right to a well regulated militia or the right to for individuals to bear arms. My focus is on the role of anti blackness in American society and how that plays out in terms of the fractured citizenship that African-Americans have endured all the way up to the present day.
S1: And the only other thing I want to say as a table setting matter is that the question that you come with and you do rooted in Orlando, Castiel. But the question you’re trying to answer, I think in your epilogue, you put in Trevor Noah’s mouth when he looks at a whole host of incidents in which police officers talk down a white man with a gun. Right. They they they they persuade him to disarm and they arrest him. And Trevor Noah, you say, makes the argument that, quote, The Second Amendment is not intended for black people. It was not made for black folks. And I think what your answer is only the Second Amendment is, in fact, working exactly the way it was intended to work with respect to black folks, and that is as a tool of persistent subordination and destruction. So I just want to be super clear that you’re not saying, oh, the Second Amendment is broken. It was conceived to do a thing that it doesn’t do. You’re saying, oh, the Second Amendment does precisely the thing it was crafted to do.
S2: Exactly. Exactly. You nailed it in one. Greg Louganis Pich position toes pointed very little splash.
S1: Let’s talk about just at the founding and let’s talk about the central city of guns and gun ownership in going right back to the colonial era. How much guns and gun ownership were really at the heart of plantation owners who were attempting to keep control over situations in which they were simply outnumbered?
S2: Guns were central to that as the militia was central to that there was this massive fear of slave uprising, slave revolts of black people fighting for their freedom, black people demanding freedom and willing to do whatever it took to be free. And so with each rumored uprising, you see the rise of an infrastructure, a legal infrastructure in terms of the laws banning the enslaved from gun possession, as well as the rise of slave patrols and the militia in order to curtail and control black people to subjugate black people. The slave patrol was a smaller unit that did the kind of regular routine going through the slave cabins, looking for contraband, looking for weapons, looking for books, looking for anything, that spark of somebody believing that they could be free. And the militia was there to backstop the slave patrols so that if the uprising was too large, it was too big, more than the slave patrol could handle. The militia came in to quash that thing.
S1: The numbers that you lay out Carol 50 percent of all wealth holders in the 13 colonies in 1774 owned guns. That number soared to 69 percent. If you were looking just at the south. Eighty one percent of slave owning estates had firearms and plantations with the largest numbers of enslaved people were four point three times more likely to have guns than those with few or no slaves. So, again, I think it’s just doesn’t necessarily fit into the picture. We tell ourselves about the birth of the Second Amendment, that at that point already it was absolutely clear that guns were in some sense as essential to continuing the sort of plantations and the slave holding way of life as the crops themselves. Guns were just that Braided into it.
S2: Absolutely Braided into it. So and you see it, for instance, in the 1739 Stonewall Rebellion in South Carolina in Stonewall, you had a group of black men who were laborers building a road day after day after day. And they began surveilling. They began figuring out what the routine, the rotation of the guards were. They began figuring out where the weapons were kept. And so on a Sunday, they struck and they killed two of the guards who were manning the arms and they took the arms and they began this quest toward Spanish Florida because Florida had no slavery. And they want it to be free. And they they demonstrated that they were willing to kill or be killed in the process of getting free with stone. You have this massive alarm ringing throughout. And and the law had that every white man had to have a gun. And so on that Sunday morning, they were in church and the alarm bell rang. They grabbed their guns as part of their work as the militia and went out after tracking down, hunting the Sterno rebellious folk to kill them to to make an example of them. So white men having guns was the expectation by law, black folks being banned from having access to guns. The expectation by law. One of the things that became really clear after Stonewall, for instance, is that you had the 17 40 Negro Act. That Negro act defined the African descended people as slaves, absolute slaves for those here and those not yet born. And it defined what they could do and what they could not do. They could not be literate, they could not have access to guns, and they could not walk about freely. They had to be, as they said, subjugated, controlled by whites. It was built into the law and the 1740 Negro Act became the foundation of slave code for the rest of the south.
S1: And I want you to talk for a minute about what you describe as a kind of three part move for subjugating slaves from colonial time really on into the framing of the Second Amendment and even the way we talk about Second Amendment rights now. And you describe this three part system. You’ve talked a little bit about the militias denying the enslaved the right to have arms and then no right of self-defense. Those are that’s the three moves. And that actually, I think you would say filters into. The way we still frame these questions today,
S2: absolutely, absolutely, so one of the things that I’m clearly tracking historically is how this plays out over time and whether the the the legal status of black people changes that dynamic. So as we move from enslaved and free black to Denison, which was that in-between space between enslaved and citizen to emancipated freed people to Jim Crow black to post civil rights African-Americans. Does that change? And the answer is no. You don’t see any significant change in the ways that access to weapons and the surveilling and the right to self-defense happen for black people in the United States. And so it was Virginia that actually developed that three prong mechanism of control. And we see how well that has worked over time.
S1: And that’s your answer to the question of why the debate that we see in Heller and the subsequent Second Amendment cases where we start to see the court latch on to the idea that there is an individual right to bear arms, it’s not militia based. And I think your point is that is orthogonal to your analysis, because whether it’s a militia based right or an individual right, each of those rights was not, in fact, afforded to African-Americans at any point historically.
S2: OK, I’m feeling so Roberta Flack right now, killing me softly with your song. This is exactly what I’m saying, is that when I looked at the individual right to bear arms, when I looked at the right to a well regulated militia, and when I looked at the right to self-defense, over time, I’m seeing that it does not apply, that in fact, each of those have been used against African-Americans because it is the quality of anti blackness, and that is to define African-Americans as a threat, as dangerous, as criminal, as people who need to be subjugated and controlled that. So that’s what I’m saying. If you are unarmed, you’re still a threat. And how many times have we in this current day heard of a black person being gunned down simply because they had a cell phone and somebody felt threatened because they thought it was a gun or just seeing a black person like Jonathan Ferrell in North Carolina who had been in a car accident and and was happy to see the police finally there because he thought help was on the way and the police gun him down. And they said we were afraid he was dangerous, he was threatening. And we see that somebody like Gerlando Castillo, who has a licensed gun, is a threat and he’s gunned down. So it doesn’t matter whether you have a gun or you don’t, your blackness is the threat and it is the default threat in this society. And so this is also why Stand Your Ground laws have such a strong racial bias, because it says wherever you have a right to be. So if I’m at the grocery store, if I’m in a parking lot, if I’m in a park and I perceive a threat, I have the right to use lethal force. Well, when black is the default threat in American society, that perception of threat puts the crosshairs on black people. And so when you look at the U.S. Civil Rights Commission report on Stand Your Ground, we see that for whites who kill black people using Stand Your Ground, that they are 10 times more likely to basically walk with justifiable homicide than blacks who kill whites. We also see that whites who kill black people understand your ground are two hundred and eighty one percent more likely to walk than whites who kill whites. Because when blacks are the victims in these killings, it becomes much more likely justifiable because of the default threat.
S1: Yeah, I think you make that point early on when you talk about Phil Endocast deal Carol when you sort of say literally the only thing he did was say, I have a gun, I’m not reaching for my gun. It’s a licensed gun. I’m getting you my papers. And that act of simply saying I have a gun becomes perceived as the threat for the police officer who shoots them.
S2: Absolutely. And it’s the way that I I juxtapose in the. For instance, the treatment of Kyle Rittenhouse versus Tamir Rice, so Kyle Rittenhouse was the 17 year old white teenager who crossed state lines with an illegally obtained AR 15 to basically go to a protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin. And there was a protest about a black man, Jacob Blake, being shot in the back seven times by police. The police see Kyle Rittenhouse and they welcome him. We really appreciate having you here. He’s got his AR 15 is hot out here. You want some water? He then goes and he guns down three people, killing two of them, seriously wounding another. He walks back towards the police with his hands up as if to surrender. And they pay no attention to him. Nothing is triggering threat for them when they see this white teenager with an AR 15. But then you juxtapose that to Tamir Rice, who’s the 12 year old black child in Cleveland in an open carry state who has a toy gun. And granted, it didn’t have the orange tip on it that says, hey, I’m a toy, but this is an open carry state and there is nobody in the park. So he’s not threatening anyone, which means that he was legal if what he was doing. The police rolled up and within two seconds they shot him down and they said he was dangerous. He was a threat. He was a threat. Now, why is Tamir Rice, the 12 year old, a threat and Kyle Rittenhouse not a threat? That’s the that is what I’m getting at here in the second.
S1: And you talk about several myths that America starts to tell itself, even back to the time of the Revolutionary War stories. I almost want to say hashtag fake news Carol that becomes a way of inflating black dangerousness and justifying the use of force against them. And one of the things you talk about very early is just the ways in which the press during the Revolutionary War invented accounts of armed former slaves fighting for the king and its out of whole cloth. It’s just a way of telling a story to explain why slaves are armed and then explained why they can’t be trusted with guns.
S2: Right. And so what you had here is that with slavery in the United States, the Continental Army had banned the arming of black people, banned the enlistment of black people to join the Continental Army. But the problem was, is that you had this militia that could not be counted on to fight the king’s forces. Sometimes they take off running. Sometimes they would show up. Sometimes they were just like, you know, up to snuff, fill in this. And and so the Continental Army was getting its butt kicked. And the exigencies of war led the Continental Army to eventually begin to enlist African-Americans to enlist the enslaved under the banner of you fight for us and you will get your freedom. And so the Continental Army became an integrated fighting force. But you also had the Earl of Dunmore, who was offering the enslaved in the South their freedom if they fought for the king. And this is before the Continental Army. The colonists are doing this. And so black folks are fleeing because freedom, freedom and that movement toward freedom is sending panic, panic throughout the colonies. But with that integrated force, the Continental Army stiffens, stiffens. And so the British decide to hit what they call the soft underbelly and they begin to attack the south. They took over Georgia like that. Then they’re headed up to South Carolina. South Carolina has deployed the vast majority of its white men as the militia to control that large black slave population. They only have seven hundred and fifty white men available to fight. The king is bringing 8000 troops barreling down on them. George Washington, since his emissary, who is like you’ve got to arm the enslaved, is the only chance we have. You’ve got to arm the enslaved. And they went, we are horrified that you would even suggest something like that. We are alarmed. We don’t even know if. This is a nation worth fighting for, that you would you would say that we should arm them. Are you kidding me? And they were ready to basically surrender to the king then except arming the enslaved because of this fear as as Nathaniel Greene, General Nathaniel Greene said they had a dreaded fear of armed blacks, but the story became from the press that is trying to link together the keep the north and the south together. The story became that the betrayal was at the hands of the enslaved who were flocking to the king. And so it ignored the fact that you had black people in the Continental Army who were serving longer times in that army and who had a lower AWOL rate in that army than whites that they were doing the heavy lifting because that narrative of black betrayal was the way to keep the nation unified.
S1: And can you talk for just a moment about this essential moment at the Constitutional Convention? You’ve got 25 of the 55 delegates as slave owners, including George Washington. You present the 2nd Amendment as a grand bargain. It was not in and of itself necessarily this lodestar of freedom. It was a deal. And I wonder if you can just walk us through what that deal was and why, again, baked into the very framing of the Second Amendment was this question of what are we going to do about slavery?
S2: Right. And so at the constitutional ratification convention in Virginia, because the Constitution has been drafted and so the ratification is happening and then it stalls. It stalls in Virginia is one of the big holdouts. And so James Madison runs down back home to Virginia to try to push this thing through. He runs up against Patrick Henry and George Mason, who are apoplectic because Madison has put control of the militia in the federal constitution under the federal under federal control. And they’re like, you know, the north detest slavery. They will if we have a slave revolt, we how can we count on them to, in fact, get the militia to come down here and protect us to put this slave revolt down? We will be left defenseless is what George Mason is hollering. We will be left defenseless. You know that. And and and and so what they’re demanding and Madison is quaking in his boots because his arguments aren’t working. He’s already like, look, slavery is protected. You already got the three fifths clause. You already got twenty extra years on the Atlantic slave trade. You already got the fugitive slave clause. And Patrick Henry was it’s not enough. And and what they wanted was a bill of Rights that would protect them. And they said, if we don’t get it, we’re going to push for a new constitutional convention. Madison was quaking in his boots because what he was afraid of was that that would hurl the U.S. back to the unworkable Articles of Confederation. And so he runs to that first Congress. And he was like a man obsessed with drafting these amendments. And so when you think about it in these amendments, you get freedom of the press, freedom of speech. You get the right not to be illegally searched and seized. You get the right to a speedy and fair trial. You get the right not to have cruel and unusual punishment. And then you have the right to a well regulated militia for the security of the state. This thing is such an outlier in this bill of rights. And this outlier is because this is the bribe to Patrick Henry, to George Mason, to the Southern slaveholders, that they will have state control of the militia. This is how you contain federal control by making sure that the states have control of the militia and so that they will not be left vulnerable to the the whims, the the abolitionist whims as as as Patrick Henry saw it, of those in Pennsylvania or those in Massachusetts, how could we possibly trust them? So now the control of the militia will be in the hands of the enslavers.
S1: And one of the themes that I think really is borne out in your incredibly heartbreaking, very, very bloody and. Violent description of slave rebellions, is that the thing that was powering them, you say and this is such an irony Carol is I think the way you write it is what proved most combustible was these revolutionary ideas on the one hand and an oppressed black population on the other. The folks who were at the helm of these revolutions were actually just taking Patrick Henry’s Give Me Liberty or give me death, quite literally. And that that juxtaposition of those two warring ideas is, in fact, the tragedy here.
S2: And it’s stoked as well by the Haitian revolution, which just sent an earthquake through the colonies, particularly the the deep slaveholding colonies, because here you had the enslaved in Haiti rising up, fighting for their freedom and taking on European armies and winning so that that notion of white supremacy, white ueber Alice, just got destroyed in Haiti. And also the ways that the Haitians fought it just they were like, this thing is is is lethal. This idea of liberty, the idea that they have the right to self govern, that black people have the right to self-government, what and they were afraid that that idea, that revolutionary idea would would metastasize, would seep into the black population here in the U.S. And so when there was Gabriel’s revolt in Virginia in eighteen hundred and Gabriel had had drank heavily from that revolutionary elixir, and he had plotted out stealthily and and powerfully how to how to create a multi racial, multi religious republic, a real republic. And and as I said. And for that he would die. But this the plot was over multiple counties, multiple cities, over a hundred enslaved people, some free blacks and two white Frenchmen who were also involved in the plotting and the planning. The conspiracy was discovered the day of or the day before it was supposed to happen because a massive thunderstorm had just ruined the logistics of it. And one of the men just was like, oh, I got to get mine because this thing is not working. I’m going to get mine. And when Governor James Monroe found out about it, he was alarmed. He was horrified about how close they came to having this mass uprising that they were sure was fueled by this revolutionary fervor coming out of the American Revolution. The French Revolution and the Haitian Revolution is like these ideas are white. Only black people are not supposed to have these ideas. Black people are not supposed to be acting upon like they have the right to freedom. They have the right to equality. They have the right to self-rule self-government. No. And and that you saw the mass public hangings. So there were these trials. And then four and five of the conspirators hung in the public square at a time Gabriel was hung alone. It was the way to send the signal. And we get a lot of that signal sending with the 1811 slave revolt in Louisiana, where, again, that fight for freedom coursing through that population and they start heading to what they believe is freedom in New Orleans. They get pummeled, pummeled because they didn’t have enough weapons from where they had stolen them from the the white militia captain. And the response was to torture them and to have to disembowel them, to decapitate them and to put their heads on pikes along the roadway as a signal, as a signal to other enslaved people that this is what will happen to you if you believe you have the right to freedom, if you believe you have the right to to to take on whites to for your freedom.
S1: And Carol, am I right to identify another theme that really, I think causes through this book is the paradox that the more expansive white rights to be armed become, the more absolutely perilous it is for blacks who have no ability to defend themselves. And there is this persistent through line. I think in the book I saw it after the Fugitive Slave Act section. I saw it in the 1841 attack on black neighborhoods in Cincinnati that I think one of the things that you’re seeing is the more widespread the white ability to arm themselves to the teeth, the more blacks who cannot have arms are put in these untenable lose lose situations.
S2: Absolutely. I mean, so you see the asymmetry it access to firepower. So we talked about the 1841 Rebelle riot riot in Cincinnati, and that is where whites were coming to basically burn down and kill the black community. They were moving towards the black neighborhood. Black folks had guns and they shot back. And whites were just like, what just happened here? That they have the audacity to shoot at us simply because we were trying to kill them. And so they came back again and again. Black folks shot back. And so whites were stunned. And so they came back with a cannon, a cannon. This is like the the vintage mass murder machine, a cannon against rifles. And so then the police finally move in. But what the police do is they disarm the black community, thinking that disarming black folks will calm white folks down, that the whites will now be pleased that black people don’t have their guns. And so peace will happen with this unilateral disarmament. Instead, the slaughter happened because it was like it was so clear that the police were on White’s side that there were would be no consequences for whites killing black people. We see that asymmetry again happening after the civil war with Colfax, Louisiana, where there is an election and whites don’t like the outcome of that election. And let me be real, real clear here. White supremacists don’t like the outcome of that election because the Republicans won. And so these Democrats who are the white supremacist party at the time that they then were going to attack the seat of government, the seat of democracy in Colfax, Louisiana, and oust those who won the election. So the black militia was called upon to protect this bastion of democracy, but they were outgunned. They didn’t have enough ammunition, and they were overwhelmed by the number of whites who were just and it was a slaughter. It was a slaughter. About 100 black people killed, many of them after they had surrendered because whites had set the the courthouse on fire where the the black militia had taken up to protect themselves. And this case goes all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court as a look at the the constitutionality of the Third Enforcement Act, which was the act to deal with domestic terrorism, to deal with the terrorism of the Klan. And in the Crookshank decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that that piece of legislation only applies to state action, not to private action. And so basically the slaughter that that domestic terrorism by these private groups was fine. President Ulysses S. Grant was beside himself. And then we had the Hamburg massacre shortly thereafter. Again, the the disparity, the asymmetry in access to weaponry. And he said what all of this has in common is not what these states all have in common, is not Christianity is not civilization. It is the right to kill Negroes. And I just went, wow, wow.
S1: So we could probably Carol go through all the ways in which, as you said, the end of the civil war doesn’t solve the asymmetry and the civil rights amendments don’t solve the asymmetry. And doing away with Jim Crow doesn’t solve the issue at every turn. And it does bring me to the black. Panthers, where for the first time we have this claim that’s made, I think that really robust gun rights for black Americans will lead to symmetry. We will have equality. And I guess we should really caveat here, the Black Panthers are talking about police terror, not Klan terror. But that’s the argument. It’s an argument, I guess, we hear reverberate in Clarence Thomas gun rights jurisprudence, where I think there’s this theory that the only way to make sure that we have freedom for all is to have guns for all. Does that prove more successful?
S2: No. Of spoiler alert, no. So what happened is that you have this massive police brutality raining down on the black community and you don’t have any accountability for that terror, for the killings, for the beatings, nothing. And so arising from that are the Black Panther Party for self-defense, founded by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. And one of their key things was to police the police. And they knew California law, open carry law. They knew the kinds of guns they could have. They made sure that their guns were registered. They made sure that they didn’t point them at anybody in a threatening manner. They knew what the law said. They also knew what the law said in terms of the distance that they had to maintain from police officers as the police were arresting people. But the police did not like having these leathered up gunned up black people looking at what they were doing. They hated policing the police. And so they ran to Don Mofford, who was a conservative assemblyman in the California legislature, and said, we need help with the Black Panthers are a problem, a serious problem. We need help. And and so it was to make illegal what the Panthers were doing so that it banned open carry and and they had the help of the NRA in drafting this legislation. And you had Ronald Reagan eagerly awaiting this legislation. I will sign at the moment it gets on my desk. And so this configuration of what we normally think of as these gun rights folks were actually targeting the Black Panthers for carrying guns.
S1: And Carol, I think because you opened your framing with the NRA, it’s useful to return to and I think you’re absolutely right that when the NRA defends Ruby Ridge, defends Waco, there’s not the corresponding outrage for a full endocast deal. But I think that one question that I guess I’m curious is your sense that the days of the ascendancy of the NRA are presumably behind us there in every kind of trouble. The gun rights movement and certainly the constitutional and legal gun rights movement may not be steeped in that hypocrisy that you say pervades the NRA’s analysis of the situation. I guess my question is, does this dual narrative guns for white people, good guns for black people, dangerous? Does that does it evaporate with the potency of the NRA so diluted in this moment?
S2: I don’t see that happening because this is a phenomenon that preceded the NRA and was embedded before the NRA was founded in like 1871 by union soldiers who really wanted to improve the marksmanship of those in the area. And what it’s really going to take is the really hard work that this nation appears to be unwilling to do, which is to dismantle anti blackness as an operating code in this society. Think about how many times we’ve heard. Well, danger, threat. I mean, I talk about the thug suffocation of Trayvon Martin. I think about the reality of that story. You have a 17 year old who is during the NBA all star game halftime goes to the convenience store to get Skittles and iced tea. A neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman, spots Trayvon and immediately sees danger, something suspicious, something threatening and gets his loaded nine millimeter and begins to stalk this child, this unarmed child through this neighborhood, ignoring the 911 one operator who says, are you following him? You need not to be doing that. And he keeps doing it to the point where there is a bullet in Trayvon Martin’s chest at the end of their interaction. How that story where a grown man stalks a grown man with a loaded gun, stalks an unarmed child through a neighborhood, becomes that Trayvon was this big, threatening, grilled up, hoodie wearing, drug dealing thug. And George Zimmerman walks. That’s the anti blackness, that’s the default threat, the default to a danger, and so the blacks as dangerous to American society, that’s the piece that we have to dismantle.
S1: Carol, I guess I was rereading part of one person no vote this week and thinking about how freakishly prescient you were in really saying this is all going to be weaponized in a way that in 2016, I don’t want to say it was science fiction. It was certainly in the cards. But I do think you called what we’re seeing right now in the States in terms of this raft of 48 states, is that number correct? Have passed some kind of voter suppression measures in response to clearly in response to what happened in twenty twenty. And it is without a doubt through this racialized lens that you predicted. And then you write the second and we have the events of January 6th where a whole army of Carol written policies just get high five on the way into the Capitol because again, a very racialized sense of who is a threat and who is just visiting the gift shop. I wonder if part of me wants to say the completely ridiculous question of how much what we’ve seen in just the months since you probably turned in the galleys for this book bears out your sense that this is not a story that reaches its low mark at Philander Castiel, that it’s going to keep being a question of as long as white fear of black men with guns is deemed legitimate, whether it’s castle doctrine, stand your ground, whatever it is, this is going to persist and how much we’re on a kind of irreversible course in the same way that it feels like we’re on an irreversible course in terms of voting, because because it is just only seeming to trend in the wrong direction.
S2: The piece of me that is all about hope does not want to believe it’s irreversible. One of the things that. Is is clear to me is that there are always people in the U.S. who are fighting against injustice, who are fighting for democracy, and that’s happening now. But the the the the big lie that led to the insurrection on January 6th, when you begin to think about foundationally what that was, it was saying that people in Philadelphia, in Milwaukee, in Detroit, in Atlanta and in Phoenix had the audacity to vote and have the audacity to vote and not vote for our candidate. How dare they exercise what they thought were their rights? And we have the right as white men and white women to override that horrific what they consider to be a horrific exercise of the right to vote and to delegitimize that right to vote, because it was done by black people, by Asian-American Pacific Islanders, by Native Americans, by Hispanics. It just was unconscionable that these people in these cities would dare vote. That fear of the exercise of black rights, the exercise of black power is also what we’re seeing in our are senseless, tautological debates over guns. Where in you know, so one of the things that I argued in a recent op ed was that we’re dealing with a twin pandemic here in addition to covid. And one is mass shootings and the other is the pandemic of anti blackness. And that anti blackness is what is helping to short circuit a real movement on gun safety laws, because there is this underlying fear that gun safety laws mean that whites will have their guns taken away from them and they will be left defenseless the same way that George Mason and Patrick Henry said, we will be left defenseless. We need to have the militia. And that kind of we will be left defenseless. It is what turns what the mccluskey’s that that couple in St. Louis who pulled out their guns as Black Lives Matter were peacefully protesting not on their their property, but peacefully protesting, walking by, and that they get heralded because Black Lives Matter becomes the threat, the threat that can only be dealt with with weapons. It is it is what we know in terms of if that you think about the insurrection on January 6th. But. If those had been African-Americans storming the Capitol, we would have had a massacre because we saw the kind of deployment of troops that they had out during a Black Lives Matter protests march. So the willingness to use the asymmetry of state violence, state power against black people is is what we’re living with today. And it is what is short circuiting the fear of black people is what is short-circuiting movement on gun safety laws. And so you get this thing saying we are willing to be unsafe in our schools, we are willing to be unsafe at the grocery store. We are willing to be unsafe in our churches. We are willing to be unsafe where we work just so that we can make sure that black people cannot come and take our things.
S1: Carol Anderson is the Charles Howard Candler, professor and chair of African-American Studies at Emory University. She’s the author of One Person No Vote and White Rage. The new book is called The Second. It was published in June by Bloomsbury Press Carol. It is always I want to say it’s always a pleasure. It’s always sobering and bracing and powerful to have you on the show, and I really appreciate that. In a moment in which it seems as though we can’t talk about the ways in which history baked these racial problems into the founding documents, that you are persisting really, I think facing that headwind in excavating the ways in which if we don’t talk about the ways they are baked in, we can’t get them baked out.
S2: Exactly. Exactly. Bad history leads to bad policy. Not telling the truth is like therapy. If you don’t say what happened, you don’t get better, you don’t get well and we need to get well. So we have to tell the truth.
S1: Thank you, Carol. Thank you for joining us.
S2: Thank you so much for having me.
S1: And that’s a wrap for this episode of Amicus. Thank you so much for listening in and thank you so very much for your letters and your questions. You can always keep in touch at Amicus, at Slate dot com, or you can find us at Facebook Dotcom Slash Amicus podcast. And if you can, please do read us, leave a review on whatever platform you may be listening in on. Today’s show was produced by Sara Burningham. We had research help from the wonderful Daniel Maloof. Gabriel Roth is editorial director. Alicia Montgomery is executive producer, and June Thomas is senior managing producer of Slate podcasts. We will be back with another episode of Amicus in two weeks.